Douglas Rushkoff, "Don't Judge Judaism By the Numbers," The New York Times, Nov. 20, 2002
Judaism is a set of ideas to be shared. Its universal tenets should not be surrendered to the seemingly more pressing threat of tribal dissolution -- particularly not right now. Judaism is founded in iconoclasm, a principle especially relevant to a world so hypnotized by its many false idols. Judaism finds its expression in radical pluralism, an assertion that there is no name for God -- at least none that any human being could conceive. And because it puts human needs above anyone's notion of deity, Judaism is ultimately enacted through the very real work of social justice.
רבי יוחנן אמר לעולם מבנימן קאתי [מרדכי] ואמאי קרי ליה יהודי על שום שכפר בע"ז שכל הכופר בע"ז נקרא יהודי כדכתיב (דניאל ג, יב) איתי גוברין יהודאין וגו'
Yohanan said: He [Mordechai] did indeed come from Benjamin. Why then was he called “a Jew”? Because he denied idolatry. For anyone who denies idolatry is called ‘a Jew’, as it is written, “There are certain Jews etc.” (Daniel 3:13).
...The non-Jew came before Hillel and Hillel converted him saying, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor, that is the entire Torah, the rest is just commentary, now go and study...
כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא, שנאמר (ישעיה ס, כא) ועמך כלם צדיקים לעולם יירשו ארץ נצר מטעי מעשה ידי להתפאר. ואלו שאין להם חלק לעולם הבא. האומר אין תחית המתים מן התורה, ואין תורה מן השמים, ואפיקורוס. רבי עקיבא אומר, אף הקורא בספרים החיצונים, והלוחש על המכה, ואומר (שמות טו, כו) כל המחלה אשר שמתי במצרים לא אשים עליך כי אני ה' רפאך. אבא שאול אומר, אף ההוגה את השם באותיותיו.
All Israel have a share in the World to Come, as it says, (Isaiah 60:21), “Thy people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.” These have no share in the World to Come: One who says that [the belief of] resurrection of the dead is not from the Torah, [one who says that] that the Torah is not from Heaven, and one who denigrates the Torah. Rabbi Akiva says: also one who reads outside books, and one who whispers [an incantation] over a wound, saying, (Exodus 15:26) “I will bring none of these diseases upon thee that I brought upon the Egyptians for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” Abba Shaul says, also one who utters the Divine Name as it is spelled.
David said: There are three distinguishing marks of this nation, the Jewish people. They are merciful, they are bashful, and they perform acts of kindness.
They are merciful, as it is written: “And He will give you mercy, and have mercy upon you and multiply you” (Deuteronomy 13:18); not only will God have mercy upon you, but He will bestow the attribute of mercy upon you.
They are bashful, as it is written: “And that His fear shall be upon your faces” (Exodus 20:17), and the fear that is on one’s face is one's bashfulness.
They perform acts of kindness, as it is written: “For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to practice righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19), i.e., to perform acts of kindness. Whoever has these three distinguishing marks is fit to cleave to this nation. Those who lack these qualities, however, are unfit to be part of the Jewish people.
EXAMPLE 1: The Synagogue Floor
Depiction of the sun-god Helios on the mosaic floor of a synagogue; Sepphoris, Israel
The Encyclopedia of Judaism, "Astrology", (ed. Neusner, et al.)
At the center of the representation of the zodiac... stood the sun-god Helios and his chariot. Despite the firm biblical, post-biblical, and rabbinic literary traditions against the creation of images of what is on earth, let alone of foreign deities or of the invisible God of the Israelites, it seems almost certain that those who worshipped in these synagogues knew exactly what this portrayal of Helios symbolized.
As E.R. Goodenough states, in their eyes this was “the divine charioteer of Hellenized Judaism, God himself,” the God at whom all prayer and supplication was aimed.
The medium of astrology and the symbols of the zodiac thus portrayed for the common Jew of the talmudic period the cosmic order and the deity who had created that order and, with it, the entire world. This was the true God who responded to human prayer, controlling and shaping in the manner that astrology describes all that happens on earth.
EXAMPLE 2: Belief in the Messiah
The King Messiah will arise and re-establish the monarchy of David as it was in former times. He will build the Sanctuary and gather in the dispersed of Israel. All the earlier statutes will be restored as they once were. Sacrifices will be offered, the Sabbatical and Jubilee years will be observed, as commanded in the Torah. Anyone who does not believe in him or one who does not anticipate his coming not only denies the Prophets, but also the Torah and Moses our Teacher....These matters are explicit in the Torah and include everything said by all the Prophets. It is even written in the Chapter of Balaam who prophesized about both the Messiahs. The first Messiah was David who saved Israel from her adversities. The final Messiah will be from his sons and will deliver Israel from the hands of the descendants of Esau...
Rabbi J. David Bleich, With Perfect Faith, 4
Rav Hillel certainly denied the reestablishment of the monarchy and restoration of the Davidic dynasty are essential components of the process of redemption. Rabbi Moses Sofer (18th cent) quite cogently points out that were such views to be held by a contemporary Jew he would be branded a heretic....
שליח צבור שטעה ודלג אחת מכל הברכות וכשמזכירין אותו יודע לחזור למקומו אין מסלקין אותו אבל אם דילג בברכת המלשינים מסלקין אותו מיד שמא אפיקורוס הוא ואם התחיל בה וטעה אין מסלקין אותו:
A prayer leader that errs and skips over one of the blessings, and then realizes their error and goes back to the place they had missed - such a person may continue leading. However, if a prayer leader skips particular blessings - haMalshinim, for example - we remove him immediately, lest he is a heretic...
... ודע דמוכח לכו"ע דאם אנו יודעין שהוא כופר בתחיית המתים או אינו מאמין בגאולה העתידה וכ"ש אם אינו מאמין בתורה מן השמים או בגמול ועונש לכו"ע אפיקורוס גמור הוא ואסור להניחו להיות ש"ץ...
Know, that according to all opinions, that if its known that the person does not believe in the reincarnation or doesn't believe in the messianic future; and all the more so if they don't believe in the concept of Torah from Heaven, or in reward and punishment; according to all opinions, such a person is a complete heretic and they may not lead the prayer services...
EXAMPLE 3: Female Rabbis
(ה) אֵין מַעֲמִידִין אִשָּׁה בְּמַלְכוּת שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יז טו) "עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ" וְלֹא מַלְכָּה. וְכֵן כָּל מְשִׂימוֹת שֶׁבְּיִשְׂרָאֵל אֵין מְמַנִּים בָּהֶם אֶלָּא אִישׁ:
(5) A woman may not be appointed queen, as it says, “upon yourselves a king” (Deut. 17:15) - a “king” and not a “queen”. A woman may not be appointed to any Position in Israel. Only may a man.
(ד) אשה פסולה לדון:
(4) A woman is ineligible to judge.... As to Deborah, the prophetess concerning whom it is stated that She judged Israel at that time (Judges IV, 4) whence we see that a woman may judge, it may be said that it was permissible only on account of a Divine order, or that she merely taught the Law. ...Although a woman may not judge, nevertheless, a learned woman may instruct law and offer legal directives - P.Tesh.
R. Avraham Gordimer, "What About Mesorah Do You Not Understand?" Cross-Currents, June 3, 2013
The entirety of traditional Jewish religious life, including its age-old ritual norms and societal norms, even if they lack formal codification, reflects Torah values, be they halachic or hashkafic; every aspect of our multi-millenia traditional religious communal modality is embedded in or predicated upon halachic or hashkafic axioms. These axioms may not be apparent to the uninitiated, yet failure to perceive them does not grant license to negate, dismiss or reform.
The fact that we are not aware of a strict halachic basis for a millennia-old Torah practice does not allow us to contest the practice and discard it. Our adherence to such practices is based upon Mesorah, and Mesorah is based upon halachic or hashkafic reasoning that often has not been popularized or formulated for mass consumption, thereby making it elusive save for those talmidei chachamim who have the requisite knowledge and insight.
Rabbi Avi Weiss, "Women Can be Rabbis, In Keeping with Tradition", NY Jewish Week, Nov. 3, 2015
Mesorah is commonly associated with the transmission of Torah. For some, it is a meta-halachic concept: Regardless of what the halacha (Jewish law) says, there is a past tradition that must not be broken.
Of course, past tradition and consideration of time-honored practices are of tremendous import...But that’s only half of the equation. It is a mistake to think that mesorah only means that everything we do today is cemented in the past. Rather mesorah conveys the idea that, within proper parameters, we should innovate to address the issues of our time. This innovation is not straying from mesorah; it is rather demanded by it...
...This understanding of mesorah emerges when assessing women and halacha. There was a time when a husband could unilaterally divorce his wife; there was a time when most women did not study Torah; there was a time when sages such as Rabbi Kook argued that women should not have the right to vote. And, in the not so distant past, women were shut out of life cycle events: no simchat bat for an infant girl; no bat mitzvah; no role for women to take part in a wedding ceremony....
If mesorah only encompassed the notion that “what was must continue to be,” these practices would still be in place. Yet today, the reverse is true. In the 11th century, Rabbenu Gershom decreed that no divorce can be given against a wife’s free will. In the 20th century, the Chofetz Chaim insisted that women should study Torah...In modern-day Israel, the Religious Zionist rabbinate supports the right of women to vote. I have little doubt that were Rabbi Kook now alive, he would support this right as well. And today, a simchat bat, bat mitzvah, and women reading the ketubah or sharing words of Torah under the chuppah are commonplace in Modern Orthodoxy....
Why, for many, is women’s learning, Zionism and secular studies compatible with the mesorah, while the ordination of women is not? What does it say about our community when a central unchanging value of our mesorah is the exclusion of women from religious leadership?